“The Humming-bird of Blooming Waters”

One of my constant companions on my walks along the Virgin River and into the Narrows was the American dipper (Cinclus mexicanus). On purely external appearances this just looks like a dumpy, drab, short-tail bird that flies like a sinking piece of lead but sketching and birding forces you to stop and notice.

I can watch this aquatic song bird for hours as it bobs up and down along the river bank, floats like a leaf downstream, and disappears under the turbulent waters of the Virgin. On one hike up the River Walk Trail I paused at the sound of the whistles and trills of a dipper song, rising above the sound of the river. I finally located the juvenile bird, perched on a branch, close to the water. I sat near, the only audience member to one of nature’s concerts. Here is how John Muir described the song of the dipper:

The more striking strains are perfect arabesques of melody, composed of a few full, round, mellow notes, embroidered with delicate trills which fade and melt in long slender cadences. In a general way his music is that of the streams refined and spiritualized. The deep booming notes of the falls are in it, the trills of rapids, the gurgling of margin eddies, the low whispering of level reaches, and the sweet tinkle of separate drops oozing from the ends of mosses and falling into tranquil pools.

As I was listening to the dipper, many people passed on the trail, none pausing or noticing the wonderful music emanating from one of Zion’s most amazing creatures. I then composed a short poem, really just the same poem that I have composed before, only the words were different. The gist of the theme can be summed up as: People in nature, shame on you for not noticing.

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The always enjoyable dipper on the banks of the Virgin River, Zion National Park.

In all the majesty and marvel of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Yosemite, John Muir focused his attention and writing this small, drab bird, which he called the water-ouzel. He writes so poetically about this bird in The Mountains of California:

He is the mountain streams’ own darling, the humming-bird of blooming waters, loving rocky ripple-slopes and sheets of foam as a bee loves flowers, as a lark loves sunshine and meadows. Among all the mountain birds, none has cheered me so much in my lonely wanderings, –none so unfailingly.

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A field sketch of the juvenile dipper, singing on it’s perch above the Virgin River.

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